From here to there, quite a journey

Tribune writer gives thanks to all who helped him along to recognition at Pro Football Hall of Fame

CANTON, Ohio — There is a country song that has been playing in my head this weekend.

It's called "I Didn't Get Here Alone." It's a personal favorite about everyone who helps along the way.

Last night I received the Dick McCann Award given to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football. My name now is on a plaque in the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with the names of Tribune writers Don Pierson, Cooper Rollow and George Strickler.

It's humbling.

But I didn't get there alone.

First, there is the good Lord. Without Him, nothing.

Then, there was Grandpa Frank. He left his home in the mountains of Italy at the age of 14 to work in coal mines in Germany, and then France. When he returned home, it wasn't for long. He left my grandmother, father and uncle in 1921 and headed to Chicago to make money to bring his family to America. He worked in the sewers, washed dishes, whatever it took.

He had a first grade education, but taught himself to speak four languages. He read Dante for kicks.

He lived as hard a life as anyone I've known. And I can only think of him smiling.

There is my father Joe. I learned from his example that there are no excuses in life, and that failure is not an option.

He came to this country in 1931 at 10, and was welcomed with the Great Depression. He shined shoes to help his family eat, and he put himself through school. Eventually, he started his own business and gave me and my family a better life than he ever could have imagined.

At 91, with a big cigar in his mouth, he remains the American dream personified.

There was my mother Nancy. Seventeen years later, I still hear her sweet voice almost every day, telling me right from wrong.

Just last week I ran across a yellowed copy of the Rudyard Kipling poem "If." She gave it to me one day when I really needed to read it. Wouldn't you know, I really needed to read it again the other day.

There is my beautiful bride of 21 years, Colette. My rock. She believes in me like no one else. This award is hers as much as mine.

There are my children Joey, Anna and Michael. They put the bounce in my step. They make me want to be a better man.

There are all the bosses who have enabled me and guided me — Ken Bartels, Marty Kaiser, Arnie Robbins, Tom Cunningham, Don Snider, Rick Jaffe, Chris D'Amico, Bill Adee, Mike Nahrstedt, John Rawlings, Dan McGrath and Mike Kellams.

There is my mentor, Kevin Lamb. What a football writer he was. I learned so much from what he told me. I learned even more from what he wrote.

There were those friends who were kind and patient with me when I was learning this business — Tom Beck, Joel Bierig, Chet Coppock, Joe Goddard, George Randazzo, Ray Sons and Mark Vancil, to name just a few.

There are so many in the NFL who have allowed me to earn their trust, from PR men to players to coaches to scouts and general managers.